Share this article

print logo

Pottery given to Goodwill may well be prehistoric; Note inside indicates Native American site

The piece of pottery that turned up last month in the warehouse of Goodwill Industries of Western New York might be described as "primitive."

Roughly 7 1/2 inches tall, the vessel features a fluted opening and wartlike protrusions.

But it arrived with a note inside suggesting that its provenance may be prehistoric.

"Found in a burial mound near Spiro Oklahoma in 1970," said the note written in pencil on a faded strip of lined paper.

If that's true -- and there's no reason to believe it's not -- the piece could be more than 1,000 years old, maybe even thousands. And soon it should be on its way back to Oklahoma.

"We're pretty amazed that the thing wasn't (a) broken or (b) just thrown out," Jeremy Juhasz, Goodwill's local social media and website coordinator, said Wednesday.

Spiro Mounds, located outside of the eastern Oklahoma city, is a prehistoric Native American archaeological site. While it was a permanent settlement from approximately 800 to 1450, there were inhabitants in the area for 8,000 years before that, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.

Oklahoma is part of the Caddo Indian Nation homelands, which extend across Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas.

Spiro Mounds saw a number of commercial and academic excavations dating from the 1930s. Looting became a problem in later years, before it was made a protected site.

The Oklahoma Historical Society opened the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Center in 1978. In 1990, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act made it illegal to traffic in such remains, funerary and sacred objects, and cultural property.

How the vessel ended up in this area remains a mystery.

The identity of the donor is unknown, as is the donation site. Juhasz said the vessel could have been left in any of a number of donation trailers or Goodwill stores in Erie and Niagara counties.

Once donations arrive at the facility on William Street in Buffalo, they're sorted in the cavernous warehouse. Items that could potentially fetch a better price than when sold in the stores are featured on, Goodwill's online auction site.

Photographs of the vessel, along with its dimensions and the contents of the note, were posted for only a matter of hours April 19-20 -- attracting two bids of $4.99 -- before Dan Victori, the e-commerce manager, started getting emails about it, Juhasz said. "People recognized it right away," he said. "We had no idea what it was."

Victori got to work, contacting officials in Oklahoma and, subsequently, the Caddo Indian Nation. The tribe is reclaiming the vessel, whose purpose remains unknown.

Neither Victori nor the Caddo Indian Nation's historic preservation officer could be reached to comment.

After researching the vessel, Goodwill dropped its attempt to sell it to the highest bidder.

"Once we were alerted to what it was," Juhasz said, "there was no doubt that we were happy to donate it back to them."